What You Should Know About Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a condition related to having insufficient saliva. The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. Everyone has a dry mouth occasionally, especially when nervous, upset, or under stress. 

This article can help you better understand dry mouth—what it is, its causes and symptoms, and how to manage it.

What Is Dry Mouth?

Teenage girl drinking water
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Dry mouth happens when your body doesn't make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. But saliva does more than that.

Saliva helps digest food and makes it possible for you to chew and swallow. It protects your teeth from decay. Saliva also prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth.

If you have a dry mouth all or most of the time, it can be uncomfortable and lead to serious health problems. You might have difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking. A dry mouth can even increase your chance of tooth decay and other mouth infections.

While you may experience a dry mouth now and then, it's not normal to have frequent dry mouth. It can be a sign of certain conditions, such as Sjögren's syndrome or thyroid disease. Certain drugs or medical treatments can also cause dry mouth.

If you think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or healthcare provider. There are things you can do to get relief.

Symptoms

Symptoms of dry mouth can be bothersome on their own, and lack of saliva can also lead to other concerns (like sores). Symptoms include:

Causes

People get dry mouth when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working correctly. Because of this, there might not be enough saliva to keep the mouth wet.

There are several reasons why the salivary glands might not be working well. However, some people experience dry mouth even if their salivary glands work properly.

Health Conditions

Sjögren's syndrome is a major cause of dry mouth. This autoimmune condition causes inflammation in the body. It can lead to dry eyes and mouth, joint pain, and a chronic cough.

Other disorders can also cause dry mouth or affect the salivary glands. Some people with certain conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, or those who have had a stroke, may not be able to feel wetness in their mouth and may think their mouth is dry even though it is not.

Medication Side Effects

More than 400 medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. However, you should not stop taking them without asking your healthcare provider.

Medications that can cause dry mouth include:

Cancer Treatments

The salivary glands can be damaged if exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, causing dry mouth.

Nerve Damage

Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that signal salivary glands to produce saliva.

Treatment

Dry mouth treatment will depend on the cause of the problem. If you think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or healthcare provider. If your dry mouth is caused by medicine, your healthcare provider might change your medication or adjust the dosage.

If your salivary glands aren't working normally but can still produce some saliva, your healthcare provider might give you a medicine that helps the glands work better.

Or, your healthcare provider or dentist might suggest using artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.

Coping

There are steps you can take to relieve your dry mouth.

  • Sip water often. Rather than gulping large amounts of water, you should only take sips of water. Drinking large amounts of liquid won't make your mouth less dry. It will make you urinate more often and may strip your mouth of mucus, which can cause even more dryness.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine. Drinks such as coffee, tea, and sodas that contain caffeine can dry out the mouth.
  • Sip water with your meals. This will make chewing and swallowing easier. It may also improve the taste of food.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to stimulate saliva flow. It's important to choose sugar-free gum and candy because dry mouth makes you highly prone to cavities.
  • Don't use tobacco or alcohol. Smoking and alcohol tend to dry out the mouth.
  • Avoid certain foods. Spicy or salty foods may cause pain in a dry mouth.
  • Use a humidifier at night. A humidifier can add moisture to your room, which will make the air you breathe less dry. Dry air can worsen dry mouth symptoms.

Oral Health Care

If you have dry mouth, you need to be extra careful to keep your teeth clean and healthy.

Having dry mouth can lead to oral health issues such as dental cavities (holes that damage the structure of the teeth), gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), periodontitis (inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth), tooth abscesses, and halitosis (bad breath).

To prevent these problems, it's essential to take good care of your teeth and gums.

  • Gently brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Floss your teeth every day.
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride.
  • Avoid sticky, sugary foods. If you do eat them, brush them immediately afterward.
  • Visit your dentist for a check-up at least twice a year. Your dentist might give you a special fluoride solution that you can rinse with to help keep your teeth healthy.

Summary

Dry mouth can often be a sign of another condition, so if the problem persists, see your healthcare provider. Besides being uncomfortable, dry mouth can also affect your oral and overall health. There are plenty of ways to relieve dry mouth, like sipping water often and using a humidifier at night.

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